In the studio with Tessa Shaw
This week In The Studio, TAG Fine Arts speaks to Tessa Shaw. Tessa studied photography at Central Saint Martins and has exhibited at Burgh House, the London Art Fair, and Christie’s. In this article, Tessa reveals her obsession with the news, her unique cyanotype process, and shares some Japanese philosophy. You can also see her works at our stand at the IFPDA's INK Miami Art Fair between the 5th - 9th of December at 1850 Collins Ave. Miami Beach, FL 33139.
When did you begin working with TAG Fine Arts?
My relationship with TAG Fine Arts began because I was looking for a well-established gallery to represent me. I spoke to Hobby about representing me as I knew it was close to my London studio and has an international reach. I like to simplify life. I can get my work to my dealer in 10 minutes however big the work is.
What is your background?
I grew up in the Somerset Levels and still have a studio there. As a journalist, I made radio and TV programmes for the BBC and Channel 4. Some of the programmes were based on design, others were documentaries about war and protest, and some were about visual arts. I have tried to have an effect through the media, but now I make my work as an individual protest in a different form. It started whilst I was at Central Saint Martin’s, where I began to question what I could contribute to the mass of digital photography.
By studying the earliest techniques of photography of Willian Fox Talbot, I grew to love the alchemy of historic chemicals and their mysterious effects. The process of cyanotype that I specialise in is an inherent part of my practice. I move around the work to capture and control the transient natural light. I want the unexpected to happen - that is part of the process.
I work with my hands and without technical equipment. I use foraged and found objects to create the images, they are unique pieces which cannot be formed through simple photography and yet follow on in the tradition of early photography.
Who are your influences?
I love Richard Long, Susan Derges and Garry Fabian Miller. I’m in awe of what they produce.
Did you ever decide to be an artist?
I’ve always been outside of the mainstream. I try not to fit it with what’s expected. I am a bit secretive. I can get suffocated by having to behave myself.
What inspires you to create?
Define what art means to you in 150 characters or less.
Art for me is about change, transformation and creating something that triggers a response in people.
Tessa at work in her studio
Describe what your workspace is like.
Messy, and I love it. It’s at the top of my house and that’s where I work in the winter. In the summertime, I tend to work outside.
Do you have a routine you follow when you’re creating?
I work in the daylight so I like to get up early. The bookshop that I co-own in Highbury, North London, involves structure and I also have a dog who needs regular walks. But with my art practice, I attempt to stay free of the daily grind. I find it pretty stultifying if I have to produce on demand. I try not to pick up the soap in the shower in the same hand each day!
Tessa Shaw - Wild and Blue - courtesy of TAG Fine Arts
What is your favourite work of art?
It's impossible to decide. I like seeing work everywhere. Everything is inspiring. Even things I don’t like.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Right now, Anni Albers, I’ve just been to see her exhibition at the Tate Modern. Fantastic! She's such an innovative woman, she was weaving plastics in the 1930s for improving acoustics. That's pretty out there.
How important are current affairs to your works?
I’m a news addict. I can listen to the same news 3 or 4 times a day which is very boring. So I wean myself off by listening to music when I work in order to stop my addiction. But, I don’t think I’ll be making any Brexit-related art.
Do you think social media has impacted your career?
O if only! I am so bad at it. I’m sure it would help me if I focused on it but it makes me feel tired and a bit despondent. I would love someone else to do it for me.
Do you create your best work as part of a collective, or working individually?
I don’t work with anyone else. In fact, I don’t like people being anywhere near when I work. They always want to talk to me and I resent it terribly. It knocks my flow.
What advice would you give to upcoming artists?
Stay local with your dealer, and always keep tabs on what you’ve sent where.
Do you love what you do?
Yes. That’s why I do it. I’m sure I could make more money doing something else but I want to do this. It fulfils me. Not that it isn’t frustrating at times, and I rail against the system and feel gloomy sometimes but yet I still do it.
What themes do you reflect on in your work?
Nature, death, beauty and decay.
Tessa Shaw - Come In The Water's Lovely (detail) - courtesy of TAG Fine Arts
Do you collect any art yourself?
Collect is a strong word for what I do. I have always bought art since I had any money, actually, even when I didn’t! Brendan Kelly, Nicola Hicks, Andrew Salgado, Lisa Wright, Amanda Faulkner, Melita Denaro, Maggie Jennings, Martyn Brewster. It’s important to me.
What artwork of yours would you like to be remembered for?
A really big one!
What quote do you live by?
The Japanese principle of wabi-sabi; that nothing is perfect and the world is transient. It is an acceptance of modesty and simplicity and an appreciation of the integrity of natural objects and processes.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am trying to do some larger scale works, and I've also been thinking about expanding my colour palette. Daunting!